Posted May 7, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com
Unless you have unlimited resources, chances are you're looking for the best value you can find in a vacation. The overarching theme for many of our suggestions is "flexibility." When suppliers are especially eager to earn your business, they typically offer enticements in the form of cut prices or extras, and it's best to go where and when prices are lowest. But even if you don't have full flexibility, you can still manage to visit the places you want without overpaying.
Seek the Promotions
The first thing you see when you log onto SmarterTravel's Travel Deals page is a handful of promotions that provide exceptional value. Most are for airfares or vacation packages. As I'm writing this, one deal features a four-night air-and-hotel package to Amsterdam for select dates in 2013 at $1,699 per person from New York, compared with $1,250 for the airfare alone. Wherever interests you, you'll find a steady parade of promotional deals throughout the year.
Check the Flash- and Private-Sale Deals
We've reported on a handful of online flash-sale, private-sale, and discount-coupon agencies like Groupon that offer a constantly changing mix of destination deals. For example, our sister site SniqueAway currently posts promotional rates of $299 a night at the elegant Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in St. Lucia for much of April and May, compared with regular prices of $490 per night. One caution, however: Don't always believe what the agencies say are the "regular" prices—they're often inflated. Instead, compare prices with TripAdvisor or some other good hotel-booking website.
Most vacation destinations exhibit at least some seasonality, and many offer low off-season prices. At the posh W Scottsdale, for example, you'll pay up to $349 per night in April but as low as $178 for the same room in July. Low seasons vary by destination: The best prices in the Caribbean are in the fourth quarter of the year. The best prices in mountain resorts are found in fall (before the skiing starts) and in spring (after skiing is over but before the summer prices peak). Low seasons in big cities are the month before and during the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Low seasons at Disney resorts are when kids are in school. If you aren't sure about seasonality, check Hotwire's TripStarter, which tracks average prices for airfare and hotels for many popular vacation destinations. Keep in mind, however, that the vacation experience is often very different in low season than in high: Scottsdale in midsummer is not as appealing as during winter-snowbird time.
Stay Close to Home
You don't have to schlep all the way to France for a French experience: For North Americans, Montreal and Quebec City are a lot closer—and when you compare prices, it's even more enticing to stick close to home. For example, the four-star La Maison Favart in Paris starts at $500 per night in April, while the four-star Hotel Nelligan in Montreal is just $175 per night for the same weekend. Sure, the Alps are spectacular, but so is the Grand Canyon. The U.S., Canada, and the nearby Caribbean and Gulf have a lot to offer without having to fly halfway around the world.
Look for a Bundle
Even absent a promotional price, you will often find that air-hotel, air-car, and air-hotel-car bundles can be a lot less expensive than buying the exact same components separately. Just about everybody is in on the bundle act: airlines, hotels, independent tour operators, and major online travel agencies (OTAs). Often, these bundles allow you to specify exactly what you want: flight, hotel, whatever.
Go for Opaque
By far the best way to enjoy maximum value in hotel accommodations and rental cars is to buy through one of the opaque agencies, where you either "bid" on a room or car or accept a price "blind" without knowing the hotel or rental company until after you make a nonrefundable purchase. The two biggest opaque agencies are Priceline (bid) and Hotwire (blind price), but several other OTAs now offer opaque options. You can pretty much get what you want by limiting hotel choices by star rating and, in big cities, neighborhoods. The prices can be as much as 50 percent off. Opaque agencies also sell airfare, but prices aren't much better and the loss of flexibility is an important factor.
Stay in One Destination
If you elect a city vacation, stay put once you arrive in your destination. Roaming around via rental car, regional plane, or train adds a lot to your daily cost. Boston, Chicago, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Vancouver, Washington, Beijing, Berlin, Budapest, London, Madrid, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, or just about any other major world-class city has plenty to keep you occupied for a week or two.
Seek Out the Local Deals
Wherever possible, use public transportation rather than taxis. Look for day- or weeklong transit passes, museum and attraction passes, senior or student discounts (if you qualify), and any other similar deals. Check with the local visitor office, either before you start your trip or as soon as you arrive, for any specials available to visitors. Use the discount theater booths in London and New York or online ticketing agencies that cover events nationwide.
These days, you can travel almost anywhere in the developed world by staying at accommodations that are a cut below your usual preference. If you normally stay at four-star hotels, dropping down to three-star properties won't cramp your style much, and even going from midprice to budget is adequate in most places. Similarly, if you feel the need to hit a three-star restaurant, go for lunch rather than dinner. Also try the "best"-rated places only for one or two meals and settle for second-best for the rest.
In Europe, Stay in the Country
If you want to enjoy France, Germany, the U.K., or any other European country, you'll find that renting a car and moseying through the countryside is both a wonderful experience and a way to slash your hotel and restaurant bills. Also, consider using a vacation rental in the countryside as a base for day trips.
Eat In, Eat Out
Vacation rentals and "suite" hotels and motels that come with kitchens can cut your daily food bills substantially. Either look for hotels with "free" breakfasts or eat breakfasts in your room. Figure on takeout or picnic lunches where feasible. Buy beverages from a supermarket rather than piling up a big bill in a hotel or restaurant. At all costs, avoid your hotel's price-gouging minibar.
Conquer the Urge to Shop
Typical vacation shopping often results in the accumulation of stuff that looked like a good idea at the time but quickly winds up in the back of some closet or in the trash. For anything practical, the U.S. generally has lower prices than you will find anywhere else. Rigorously apply the "where will this be in six months" test to anything that tempts you. Note that many supposed "bargains" in fashion and tech goods turn out to be counterfeit. If you can't tell the difference between a genuine emerald and a piece of a broken Coke bottle, don't buy emeralds. You get the drift.
Read the original story: 12 Ways to Cut Vacation Costs by Ed Perkins
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